Sunday, August 28, 2005

Travel To Pyatigorsk, Russia, June 2005

Up early to finish packing, left Ginter Park church on church bus to Shady Grove church where we met Sam and three team members. We stopped for dinner, arrived at Dulles to meet the others with their mountain of luggage. Each person was to have one "personal" suitcase and one filled with supplies for the Russian people-weighing 70 pounds apiece-plus a carryon bag. Our bus driver was very efficient, and traffic was crowded southbound but w had no hang-ups. Corin, the other GP member, carried the heavy luggage for us both while I watched his lighter bag and we followed Jerry thru the crowded airport to board British Airways flight # 216, leaving at 6:50 p.m.

Beautiful plane ride over the Atlantic, high above the clouds. Good night's sleep and when I woke I could see water, then green Ireland. London airport was crowded, with lots of people going all different ways. We followed the wrong sign and almost missed the International line. We could only look out the glass to see all the parked planes, and we simply sat to people-watch. One team member used luggage for a pillow and stretched out on the floor for a nap.

We left Heathrow at 8:55 a.m. on BA flight 872, and again we could see little until we came down to see pretty grass and trees. Closer, you could see lines between all the trees, and I wondered if they were roads? Infrequent cars, on roads that looked like dirt. Moscow airport was not modern, and we walked to the bus on sidewalks made of lumber. Our 4 lane road was crowded with "parking lot" cars leaving Moscow for home. Driving thru Moscow, we saw wet streets that were continually being washed. Electric buses and trolleys, old mosques, Ferrari, Maserati and Lexus factories, Baum and Mercier watch billboards and ads. Our Hotel Rossia with 6000 rooms at one time was the biggest in the world, until someone built a hotel in L.A. with 6001 rooms! We did have warm showers and a room just large enough for 2 small beds. Stuffy, no air conditioning, we opened the window and I had a great night's sleep.

Before breakfast, we departed on Train 4 from the Moscow open-air station for Pyatigorsk. Our car had about 6 roomettes for us to share, 3 to a room with upper and lower bunks. Russia was ours to observe from the windows! Pretty country, with small villages, unpaved roads, small houses with corrugated tin roofs and most houses had enclosed gardens. Concrete fences, people walking and riding bicycles or motorcycles. I think we saw only the back yards and not too many animals. Cows, goats, geese and even a horse on the mostly flat fields, sometimes a small hill in the distance. We had boxed meals.

Stewards were there to help but of course the language barrier was there! We stopped several times for people to board; we could buy icecream and once a lady had paper cups of strawberries, small but good (after we washed them in our bottled water as instructed.) We saw a small river and a swamp, crops looking good because there must have been enough rain. A long bridge across the river, with traintrack in the center of 4 lanes. Once we saw a grave decorated with flowers and wreath, surrounded by a fence, right out in the open field. Had a hard time sleeping, one city with lights on the platform, full moon bright and beautiful and a noise train whizzing along going the other way.

We had breakfast, saw two huge rocks and alighted at 10:50 a.m. in Pyatigorsk, City of 5 Peaks, again with our luggage mountain to carry to a bus and our boarding school "home" for a week.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Pictures Of Our Afternoons Of Visiting

We spent the afternoon at a Russian orphanage that houses 40 children. We toured part of the building, including the small children's dorm. There were about 9 little ones sitting with little legs straight out on a sofa, dressed in their best on their very best behavior, not really excited about visitors. One small boy finally brought us a truck to share and we were told it was "his." Evidently those in neat order on the floor were for all to play with. We saw a small room with beds quite close together, no space between some, few decorations or personal belongings. Tour guide said that the children were not all orphans; some parents left them there because of finances and took them home frequently. The compound included a very old church and we saw no play yard, only a hardtop drive where some big kids were skateboarding and a little one pushing a doll stroller.

These same little children, crowned with animal hats, gave a play with songs and dialogue. Though the language was not understandable, the enthusiasm was, and the behavior perfect. We were served cookies and tea, and a lecture by the directors, and learned about the expenses and bureaucracy which governs them. The director is allowed $50 a year for clothing and equipment, everything neat and clean. The supplies that we brought with us were valued and needed.

We visited a vets' hospital, with ten bags of supplies. Touring the building, we saw clean and orderly rooms, all with lace curtains and potted flowers on the window sills, and plenty of attendants and doctors. We were told about electric, water and laser treatments and acupuncture. Activity where we toured was very slow. Lots of retired veterans were sitting around inside and in the quiet courtyard and they all were friendly and smiling. One elderly vet of WWII told of seeing Americans two times-the first was when they freed him from a German Prison Camp in 1945.

We traveled to the Social Services Children's Day Care and were told how the organization works and how they care for the children in the city. Children on their summer break were happy to meet and perform for us-they sang, played piano and enjoyed our visiting with them.